The Crucial Word
“ . . . Be sure to learn the crucial word jalón.”
Let’s go back for a minute to my first day in Tegus. I am on the bus with Elizabeth, Jen, and Hannah. There are no seats left and there are so many people I can hardly breathe, someone’s butt is rubbing against me and it does not belong to one of my friends. People are staring at the gringas with steady, unabashed eyes and we know we cannot hide the fact we are freshly-arrived. We have full backpacks and there is no room in the luggage rack above the seats. It is a hot day and not everyone on the bus is willing to lower their windows due to dust and smoke. Dark blue curtains cover the windows and we have no idea where we are going, much less how we are going to know where to get off. A woman is kindly holding my backpack, but I am nervous about that too. What if she is not really just a nice old grandmother, but a thief, undercover in her roomy flowered dress?
A few minutes into our ride, it is time to collect fares. The bus driver’s assistant walks down the aisle of the bus and collects our fare of 10 lempiras (about 50 cents). In theory, this would work just fine, but, remember, we are packed into the bus as tightly as a box of crayons. The bus lurches forward, we lurch forward. The bus nearly falls off a steep mountain road, we nearly fall into the laps of the old men that will not stop looking at us. Someone’s butt is still touching me. Things don’t get better. 45 long minutes later, sweaty and cranky, we arrive at the Ranch.
Whether you’re traveling for 10 minute or 10 hours, this is Honduran mass transit. But, thank goodness, there is another option. As the good ol’ Moon Handbook puts it (authoritatively, although a bit dry): “Not only is hitching safe and convenient in Honduras, but riding in the open air in the back of the pick-up beats being crammed into a hot bus for a few hours.” Here, in Honduras, we go by jalón.
Jalón (pronounced ha-lone) translates to something like “big pull,” but it is used here to mean relying on the kindness of strangers to let you hop in the back of their truck and hop out somewhere down the road–be it a few miles or a few hundred. We volunteers, in English, use “jalón” like a verb. For instance, “We are jalóning to Tela this weekend,” but in Spanish it works as a noun, “Vamos por jalón” (literally, We go by jalón).
There really is no better way to see the country than stretching your legs, leaning back on your backpack and seeing it all fly by in the back of a pick-up. When you travel por jalón, there’s no need for bus schedules (not that the buses run on schedules here) or tickets, there’s no risk of not having a seat or missing a connection. When you travel por jalón all you need is a little faith and the humility to rely on someone else to take you where you want to go. It is a pretty amazing thing to have traveled across the country, thanks to the people who helped you along your way and asked for nothing in return.
By the way, don´t do this at home. Seriously. Traveling by jalón is generally safe (unless you consider blasting Bryan Adams dangerous) and is a part of the way of life here in Honduras. Please know I do not endorse hitchhiking in general, especially in the United States where you will surely get picked up by a murderer or lonely trucker.